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Industrial Minerals in Kansas

Although Kansas is best known for its oil and gas production, non-fuel or industrial minerals make a significant contribution to the state's economy. In 1998, industrial mineral production amounted to $535 million. If finished products were included, this figure would be even larger. Among the state's non-fuel industrial minerals are cement, clay and shale, crushed rock, dimension stone, gypsum, helium, salt, sand and gravel, sulfur, and volcanic ash.

Sand and gravel operations are the most common and widespread of the mineral-production facilities in the state. Over 400 dredges and pits across the state were used to produce nearly 9.75 million metric tons of construction sand and gravel in 1998. Most of the production is located along the state's major river systems, the Kansas River (in northeastern Kansas) and the Arkansas River (in central and western Kansas). In addition, a few operations produce industrial sand and gravel for uses varying from sand blasting to raw material for fiberglass production.

Of the state's mineral commodities, sand and gravel operations have faced the most controversy in recent years. River dredging in the Kansas River caused confrontation between recreationalists and producers. Canoeists and other groups have fought to limit or eliminate dredging in the river. However, the dispute is complicated by several factors:

  1. the river is the most important source of sand and gravel for eastern Kansas,
  2. 40 percent of the state's population live in the 10 counties along the river,
  3. available land and deposits for floodplain operations in the lower part of the river, where the need is greatest, are scarce, and
  4. the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers wants to limit production to minimize river bed degradation and consequent potential damage to structures.

Pit dredging along the Arkansas River has also faced challenges because of high evaporation rates and the scarcity of ground water along the river in western Kansas.

More important in value is crushed stone, the production of which is concentrated in the eastern one-third of the state where Permian and Pennsylvanian limestones crop out. A few crushed rock operations use limestone, dolomite, or quartzite of Cretaceous age in central Kansas, and small operations use the Ogallala of Tertiary Age in northwestern Kansas. Major uses include construction applications and cement production. In 1998, over 350 quarries produced 22.6 million metric tons of crushed rock valued at $102 million.

The dimension stone industry in Kansas once used stone from all over the state, but in recent years most of the stone comes from Lower Permian Age limestones with quarries in Chase, Cowley, Pottawatomie, Shawnee, and Wabaunsee counties in eastern Kansas. Smaller amounts of building stone are produced from Pennsylvanian limestones in Leavenworth and Johnson counties and sandstone in Bourbon County.

The state boasts a well-developed cement industry. All plants are located in the nine-county southeastern corner of the state. About one-third of the total production of crushed stone from these nine counties is used for cement. Some of the plants use waste materials as a partial fuel substitute.

Gypsum, a hydrated calcium sulfate, is used as a cement additive and to produce sheet rock or wall board and a variety of plasters. Mines and plants are located in Marshall and Barber counties. Both locations have underground mines but the majority of gypsum in Barber County is produced from an open pit. The Barber County operation is one of the larger mines and plants in the United States according to the U. S. Geological Survey.

Clay and shale is mined in open pits and used to produce a variety of ceramic products including brick, sewer pipe, tile, and lightweight aggregate (also known as expanded shale). In addition, some clay or shale is used as a raw material for cement. In southern Wilson County, a unique micaceous clay (actually a weathered peridotite) material is used for animal feed supplement. At one time, most of the state's clay and shale was mined and used in southeastern Kansas, largely due to the inexpensive and abundant raw materials and fuel (especially natural gas) available at the beginning of the century when these industries were established. Today, both Cretaceous (central Kansas) and Pennsylvanian (eastern Kansas) clays are used in the ceramic industry.

The Hutchinson Salt Member is used by the salt industry in Kansas with underground and solution mines operating in the central Kansas counties of Reno, Rice and Ellsworth. The industry is one of the oldest in the state, celebrating its centennial in 1987. The underground operations produce a salt that contains impurities such as shale and anhydrite and restricts its use to low-purity applications such as road deicing and ice cream making. The solution-mined salt, produced by dissolving the salt with water pumped into the salt formation and then pumping the brine back to the surface where it is evaporated, is purified and suitable for table salt and other uses requiring purity.

A solution mine in Sedgewick County produces brine that is used as a feedstock for a chloralkali plant. The brine is electrolytically separated into caustic (sodium hydroxide) and chlorine gas, both widely used in the chemical industry. Most Kansans do not realize that much of the world's salt is used in this manner.

At one time, periods of volcanic activity in the northwest and southwest filled Kansas skies with volcanic ash--fine, glassy, particulate matter--that gradually covered large areas of Kansas. A combination of wind and water led to accumulations of this material into the bottom of lakes. Today, this material is present in many areas of the state and is currently mined in open pits in Norton and Jewell counties. It is used in cleansing materials (it has a mild abrasive action) and as a filter medium.

Two industrial minerals are produced from fuels. Sulfur is obtained as a byproduct from the refining of petroleum and helium is produced from natural gas. The helium content in the natural gas obtained from the Hugoton field is quite high and Kansas is the leading producer of helium in the United States.

Kansas Geological Survey
Comments to
Updated Fall 1999